Marc Carlisle: Pennies on the sidewalk, trillions in debt |

Marc Carlisle: Pennies on the sidewalk, trillions in debt

Following the arrest of Larry Craig, authorities at the Minneapolis airport have spent $25,000 per bathroom installing new, floor-to-ceiling stall dividers in each of the men’s rooms in an effort to help other U.S. Senators maintain their dignity.

With more than 80 men’s rooms, the total cost for new dividers will top $1 million which authorities plan to recoup by charging $1 a dump. While use of the urinals and the wash basins will still be complimentary, use of the stalls by the men, and only the men, will require a dime-sized token available for purchase not in the men’s room, but in vending machines out in the concourse.

Use of tokens avoids the cost of installing bill exchangers or coin boxes on every stall door, and allows airport authorities to use hundreds of old bathroom stall doors complete with dime-sized rest room token slots they uninstalled 30 years ago.

In the world of business, a failed product or service becomes a guidepost marking the way not to go. In government, a failed product or service becomes precedent, marking the way to go.

While I’ve been through the Minneapolis airport dozens of times, the Twin Cities were the point of origin for my first trip on a jet, a Northwest Orient 747 to Miami, although it was a near thing because of those then original equipment stall doors.

While I was old enough to use the men’s room myself, I had not nor have I since encountered pay toilets, so when I walked nose first into the locked stall door, I didn’t have a ready dime to pay the toll.

There is no place less inviting for a kid to ask strangers for change than an airport men’s room and with bill changers yet to be invented, my only alternative would have been to go back onto the concourse.

But my luck was in. On the floor I found not one dime but several, fumbled there I imagine by others thwarted the first time who had come back with a dollar in dimes but dropped the extra.

While I’ve picked up innumerable coins off the ground in the years since, that dime is one of the few I remember. The token-operated doors didn’t last long, I found out later. Today, however, declining airport revenues and increasing lavatory depravity have come together to reward some retiring custodian with a bonus for his foresight in saving the old stall doors all these years.

In the world of mortgage finance, sub-prime loans with a low starter interest rates, and no-doc loans, made not on the strength of poorly qualified borrowers but the value and assumed increase in value of the house, are bust.

While the number of folks who “discontinued” the loan at the end of the teaser rate is about the same as the number of folks who drop cable when the cheap rate is done, by then the cable company has recovered its costs while the mortgage lender loses millions of dollars.

In the world of government mortgage finance, what’s been done before is every reason to do it again. Just as the Minneapolis airport is considering reinstalling pay toilets, the Federal government is looking past the taxpayer money already allocated and already lost on FHA loans to make loans more available, not less, and twice the size.

Keeping in mind that the problem is not foreclosures or shady lending practices, but borrowers who took the cheap rate and then chose to keep the car and the bling and stiff the lender, to bail out the mortgage finance industry, the Federal government will double the FHA loan limit to more than $700,000, and encourage loans to borrowers not on the strength of their credit history (the folks who chose foreclosure are eligible) but on the value and expected increase in value of the home.

Sound familiar? Even first-time borrowers can get $700,000 for a starter home. Best of all for lawmakers, with the Federal deficit approaching half-a-trillion dollars, FHA loans don’t count because they are loans, not spending.

But plan to pick up all dimes from restroom floors starting today: You’ll need the money to cover those loans when they go bad and become taxpayer spending, or for your airport use.

Even if other airports don’t adopt Minneapolis’ pay-to-pee, some day soon aboard the friendly skies, you’ll be glad you had that extra dime.

Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at

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